1. Returning to a composition
We speak to Janet Wheeler about what to do when revisiting an older composition…
Using copyrighted material in your music and your rights when you've written a piece.
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Copyright refers to the right for artists to be able to decide how their works are used or referenced by others. Essentially, once a work of art, such as a composition, is created and documented as being created, the composer can decide when their piece can be copied, performed and/or broadcast. The copyright page on the PRS Music website is useful for explaining this in more detail.
For composers it's important to consider copyright from two points of view: the copyright of material you might use and the copyright of your own music.
In terms of material you might use, a good example is text such as a poem or piece of prose that you might want to set to music. You must check whether this text is in copyright and, if it is, you must get express permission from the writer (or their publisher) to be able to use it. The same goes if you reference a specific piece of music by another composer, they must give you permission to use it. Don't presume that just because a writer or composer is no longer alive that their work isn't under copyright, copyright in the UK lasts for 70 years after the documentation of the work and continues even if the artist has died. In this case the copyright might be protected by a publisher, which represents a number of artists, or a Foundation, that tends to represent all the works of one artist. I'm afraid that here's no catalogue of all copyrighted works, so the simplest place to start is to do an internet search to see who might be in charge of any specific work.
Of course, copyright also applies to your own work. Officially copyright starts once a composition has been written but for copyright protection it's important to document it, follow this British Library link on how best to do this. Once you have created and documented your work, it is under copyright for 70 years, meaning that for that length of time you can decide what happens with it and, if you're lucky enough, make money from it being performed!
3. Presentation of score
Music needs to be written in a way that is as easy to read as possible. It might sound obvious, but unless your score is presentable, clear and concise, the musicians (and conductor!) will have immense difficulty performing it.
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In choral music, you need to ensure that the text (your chosen words) are clearly under the notes that are meant to be sung and that if you want several notes sung over one word, then this is clearly indicated. Other things to note for choirs, if you have 4 parts, the notes need to align underneath each other rhythmically, so that each singer can see if their note comes before, after, or at the same time as another part. Unusually, in choral music the singers will usually be given the same score as the conductor. Singers are accustomed to reading all the parts at once, cueing themselves from other entries and following what the other voices are doing, as well as their own. This is not the case in orchestral writing, instrumentalists do not follow this practise and this usually only occurs in if you are performing a duet that relies heavily on knowing and understanding the other part!
Another point to note is the font/style of your score. Some music-writing software gives you the option of choosing a different ‘style’, perhaps a more jazzy looking version. We recommend avoiding this! It can be more difficult to read and might cause others to take your work less seriously. It’s all about making the music as easy to read as possible. Make sure you pick a font size that you can still read at a meter's distance away (some performers stand quite far back from their music), that you don’t squash too much into one space, that the bars are equally spaced, and that the voices are equally spaced. Key signatures, accidentals, and performance markings should be clear and not getting in the way of the notes. If in doubt, give lots of space.
4. Getting your work performed.
ORA Singers speaks to its Chief Executive, Matthew Beale, on the practical performance challenges for vocal groups and choral commissions…
ORA Singers gets emails all the time from composers who would like to be commissioned, but often this is not the most effective way of getting noticed. We’ve highlighted some of the ways in which we notice composers, and therefore their pieces, for you below:
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1) Your website.
If you don’t have a website, it can often seem like you don’t actually exist. We expect to be able to search your name and to find out all about you, concisely, in a well-designed website. We expect to hear a selection of your works on your website and to see that you are active in the musical world. It’s not a set formula, if you don’t have an impressive biography then put your music on the front page so that we can hear, rather than read, how good you are. When writing your biography, be aware that people in the music industry know most of the groups, awards or scholarships you might reference, so only plug the best parts. Musos will be able to read between the lines, so if you don’t have much to add in there, make sure to keep it brief and describe yourself and passions instead of your achievements.
2) Your presence.
It’s important to have both an active digital and physical presence. This means turning up to concerts, introducing yourself to people, speaking to staff, contacting other composers to network, and getting in touch with concert organisers/groups so that they know who you are. If you have a way of doing this that isn’t a cold approach (they haven’t met you before) and also isn’t a straightforward ‘please consider my music’ email, then this is advisable. Perhaps you spoke to the admin team about something at the concert, and then emailed to follow up, making sure in the footer of your email it is clear you are a composer and your website link. Things like this get picked up. Organisers don’t like being bombarded with requests for them to listen to work, but will take the time to research those they think they have naturally come across. This means it’s also important to have a strong presence on social media- ‘liking’ a group’s posts and commenting on it will draw their attention to your page and make them aware of what you are doing, particularly if they follow you back!
3) Your attitude.
Whilst it is your musical talent that is under scrutiny, often other factors come to play. Are you always polite and efficient in your emails? Have you acted gratefully to those who have given you opportunities? Are you active in offering to do things for others? It’s amazing how much these points matter, particularly in the professional world. Remember that you are working with people and it is people that you need to convince.
1) Your name.
Getting your name out there can be hard, but once you do you will reap the benefits. Take every opportunity to get your name out there, whether that’s on the internet, in a magazine, in a blog, or word of mouth. Musical circles can be small and once someone picks up who you are, word spreads quickly. Apply for every opportunity that comes up as you never know which ones might open the door for you. Groups often keep an eye on all of the young musician/composer schemes as they like to be the first to snatch a new talent before they become mainstream. And once one thing comes along, you’ll find lots more quickly comes your way.